Takuma Sato claimed the Carb Day honors on Friday as the Indianapolis 500 field completed its final practice session ahead of Sunday’s race, although the main talking point immediately after the checkered flag was tire wear.
The drivers were greeted with cool conditions similar to those being forecast for Sunday, but one of the knock-on effects was increased tire degradation that left some teams calculating whether stint lengths for the race might be dictated more by rubber life than fuel capacity.
At least two Ganassi cars — those of Marcus Ericsson and Alex Palou — showed cording on their front-lefts, although the only actual tire failure of the day was the result of debris. Andretti Autosport’s Devlin DeFrancesco suffered a cut front-right in Turn 2 with just over 20 minutes to go, and did a remarkable job to keep the No. 29 Honda out of the barriers.
By that point, several teams had already learned all they wanted to and put their cars away, including several of DeFrancesco’s teammates.
“Very happy with where we ended up with the race car,” said Romain Grosjean, who called it a day after about 90 minutes. “Don’t want to take any more risk. We tried everything we wanted to — some good stuff, some not good. We were able to get a time on the board early on without trying too hard, so I was happy with that.”
Sato’s benchmark lap of 227.855mph came during the first hour, and proved just strong enough to hold off Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon’s 227.285mph.
“Didn’t start very well, to be honest,” Dixon said. “The car was definitely off on balance; we had to work on it a fair bit. But it was fun to run with the No. 21 and then Pato (O’Ward) a little bit and then the No. 10. I think where we ended was a big improvement, but we’ve still got a lot to find.
“The wind change today made it difficult. Turn 2 was a bigger advantage than Turn 4, but 4 seems to be the easier one to try to get it done, but today made it difficult. Even 3 to try to set it up for 4 was difficult because of the wind direction, and it think it’s going to be the same for the race.”
Will Power was third fastest with a 226.953mph in the No.12 Team Penske Chevrolet, with Palou and Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood rounding out the top five.
Graham Rahal’s first “proper” outing in the No. 30 DRR/Cusick Chevrolet ended with him 30th fastest, just behind Katherine Legge — who was Rahal’s teammate at Rahal Letterman Lanigan until Monday, when a convoluted chain of events started with Rahal’s regular No. 15 RLL car being bumped out of the race, and Rahal then getting the call to drive the No. 30 after Stefan Wilson was injured in a crash with Legge during practice on Monday.
Legge had dramas of her own on Friday when her right-rear wheelnut decided to wander off while she was driving down the pit exit. Fortunately she detected the problem before putting any power down, and she pulled the car harmlessly to the side of the track.
Yellow flag is out for @katherinelegge stopped on-track.
The No. 44 had issues with a wheel nut.#INDYCAR // #Indy500 pic.twitter.com/supqO5yOJl
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) May 26, 2023
Another relatively small problem had bigger ramifications for DRR’s Ryan Hunter-Reay. The No. 23 Chevrolet was black-flagged after 40 minutes when fluid that was supposed to be contained within the gearbox instead began finding its way onto the track. The team brought him in and affected a repair to the seal, only for the car to be parked by the series.
“Not really sure (what happened),” Hunter-Reay told Peacock. “I just know it was a very minimal leak on the side of the gearbox. The guys were kind of shocked that they shut us down for it. We haven’t had one issue all month. It’s just unfortunate because we lost an hour of practice. But I was really happy with the car — the balance was good. We ran a little bit too much downforce early on so we trimmed, and then they shut us down. Not sure what to think of it but better today than race day. I just hope we get it sorted by race day.”